Cupping: Does it work? Does it hurt?

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) -- All eyes were on Michael Phelps at the Olympics, but not just for his talents. He was sporting mysterious circular bruises on his back and shoulders, the marks of an ancient Chinese form of therapy.

Cupping is one of the oldest forms of traditional Chinese medicine. It's not recognized by modern medicine, but after Michael Phelps won 23 gold medals, it might just be the trick of champions.

It involves the use of glass or plastic cups to create a vacuum seal on the skin, said Chris Tran, owner of Acupuncture Wellness Center on the West Bank.

Similar to acupuncture, the technique is designed to increase circulation to the underlying tissues, reduce swellings, release muscle tension, reduce fever and activate the lymphatic system.

Olympians aren't the only ones getting the treatment. Many of the New Orleans Saints do it to relieve acute muscle pain. You may notice some of your favorite celebrities sporting the circular marks on their backs.

Tran said celebrities are into cupping for the health benefits of removing "Qi," a form of energy that's found in your body.

"If it's blocked up or stagnant it creates an imbalance," he said. "When there's severe imbalances, something has got to be wrong. It could be an organ issue, so you want to balance that organ."

News With a Twist reporter Meghan Kluth tried cupping. The sensation during treatment was similar to a pulling on the skin, but not painful. She just experienced tightness and a slight tingling.

After 15 minutes, the cups were removed. Just one day after the treatment, her back felt like she had gotten a deep tissue massage, and the circular bruise-like marks were already starting to disappear.

It might not be scientifically proven to help with pain, but if Olympians and the Saints are with the program, then it's surely worth a try.